Thirty plus of us started at the North Rim at 7a.m. The group consisted mostly of Federal Highway administrator friends of Dan, Dan, the Transportation Man. Pre-trip, I asked him about the weather. He said he’d never seen a cloud on his previous three hikes.
Within the first 500 meters, lightening danced around us, hail fell from the sky, and we saw a dead mule covered with a tarp. The hail turned to light rain and we enjoyed cloud cover off and on throughout the day. The Canyon vets said it was about 25 degrees cooler than normal. I may have never made it if it was 100+.
Hiking the canyon is an enigma, your spirit is lifted while your body is punished. I had my bike computer in my pocket, but its global positioning system was cutting in and out meaning the mileage was off, but the first half descent of 6,600′ seemed spot on. The toughest point for me was the middle because as I descended my lower back got progressively tighter to the point where I thought it was going to completely seize up.
There are no rescues in the Canyon, once you drop in, you’re committed to the full meal deal. I took some comfort in the fact that I was among the first few hikers in our group meaning if my back completely gave out, people would find me on the trail and provide a proper burial. I also rolled my ankle at one point, took a wrong turn, did some ill-advised bushwhacking that added distance, and nearly ran out of water before lunch at Phantom Ranch.
I was not hiking particularly quickly, but I spent the first half of the day enjoying wonderfully long stretches without stopping for more than a few seconds for a picture or water. I reached the South Rim at 6:15p and guess that I was moving for about 9:45 of that 11:15. I enjoyed a longer lunch than normal, about an hour, because Dan and others rolled in just as I was beginning to feel semi-normal.
I used the additional time to stretch my back. The ascent was unrelenting and damn steep. I was conscious of how uniquely beautiful my surroundings were about 75% of the time. The rest of the time, I was so shelled that all I could do was focus on the next twenty meters.
There’s something wonderfully primitive about walking long distances. Maybe because it has been the dominant mode of transportation for the vast majority of world history. I dig my carbon fiber bicycle, but it doesn’t connect me to the ancient past in the way that walking long distances does. And in the Grand Canyon the ancient past is in stereo because your constantly surrounded by unrivaled geologic wonders.
Thanks be to God for the health to walk into and up out of the grandest of canyons.